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Why Un-Silo-ing Your Data Will Boost Your Company's Efficiency and Productivity You can't manage what you don't track. Analytics empowers organizations to effectively manage both assets and people.

By April Rassa Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Data silos have become the scourge of the 21st century. Besides the costs you'll have to pay -- because eventually you'll have to undo this problem -- separating data into various databases and programs rather than fully integrating it significantly hinders efficiency and productivity.

Related: How Inefficient Processes Are Hurting Your Company

The problem? When your company's data lives in separate, non-communicating systems, you're hampering your company's ability to get the most out of that information and to mine it for operational insights and promote transparency. You're also creating extra work for employees, because when it comes time to actually put the data to use, the only way to share knowledge with other departments is via manual, inefficient methods such a spreadsheets, email or chat.

To solve the data problem, then, requires fluid, adaptable processes and a unified system of record-keeping that provides complete transparency and accountability while promoting collaboration and allowing secure access.

Here are the five moves companies can implement to better manage and use their data:

1. Question the status quo.

The first step to unsiloing your data is to ask the hard questions as to why you're using a particular system in the first place, then gauging how well it's working for you. How are your different systems using their data? How old is the data? And who created the storage system for that data in the first place?

Quite often, leadership changes occur without system changes, and when a company has gone through a certain number of leaders and one or more of those leaders suddenly realizes that the company's systems are in dire need of updates.

Related: Embedding big data analytics into company's DNA

2. Streamline operations via paperless data collection.

Getting your data off of paper and away from time-sapping, manual-based processes is absolutely key. Processes such as spreadsheets are incredibly time-consuming and create work redundancy when inter-departmental access becomes impossible.

By going digital, you are immediately putting your data in a much better position to be analyzed, cross-referenced and hence used to streamline efficiency and create the kind of transformative insights that only data-sharing can create. For example, a Fortune 50 company I know of eliminated manual data entry completely and centralized its health and safety activities to increase transparency and accountability.

As a result, the company cut down on 30-plus hours per month on data entry.

3. Find ways to work more flexibly, openly and collaboratively.

A big part of improving the way you store and manage your data doesn't actually have to do with that data, but with your people. When you create an atmosphere of inter-departmental cooperation and collaboration, you're setting the stage to unsilo your data. As teams meld and share goals and create cross-functional initiatives, they'll need to be able to use one other's data to achieve those initiatives. And that means breaking down those data silos.

For example, most companies managing field operations are consumed by paper processes. Those processes fail to inform managers about what's going on in real time; but, with a digital platform, as soon as a field tech or operator in the field completes and submits a form, the data from it becomes accessible to all stakeholders.

The visibility that results provides managers with immediate answers to questions like, "Have all the safety requirements been met?" or, "Have all the equipment and maintenance records been observed?" or, "Is any team's overall productivity improving or worsening?" You can't manage what you don't track. Analytics empowers organizations to effectively manage both assets and people.

4. Champion digital inclusion both inside and outside your organization.

Also on the people side is the need to champion digital inclusion throughout your organization, and include the interests of both your customers and your supply-chain vendors. A change in systems, in fact, should be seen as a holistic endeavor. You can't change one part without changing the rest.

When you embark on your mission to break up data silos, make sure your vendors are aware of what you're planning to do, and equip them with the knowledge and information separation they need to know about. In that way, they will be able to keep up with the new pace you'll create from going digital and unsiloing your data.

  • The real-life examples of the power of digital data collection are varied and numerous. For utilities, in-the-field technicians can use digital data collection to dispatch customer, location and job and part information, then route work-order results for immediate processing.
  • Where transportation, plant-asset inspection and equipment maintenance used to take up to five days with paper processes, a big change has occurred: Now, forms are dispatched to all of management via a centralized, cloud-based platform, in less than an hour.
  • In energy, refinery employees have switched from using index cards for recording information on safety, equipment and cleanliness, to iPads. That move has led to significantly improved safety, accountability and transparency.

5. Get rid of legacy systems.

Old systems can become obsolete really fast. But what's even scarier is when they don't become obsolete -- when they continue to drag the rest of your organization down simply because that's the way you've always done things and (to your way of thinking) the way in which things run the smoothest.

So, change your thinking: Free employees of legacy systems or work streams that limit the way they consume and respond to business change. Take risks on newer technologies and roll them out in a phased approach to ensure employee adoption and curtail fears of change or transformation. When you're willing to break with the mold, your options increase exponentially, and you equip your company with the ability to protect itself from digital disruptors.

Related: In the Next Wave Of Innovation, Big Data Is Your Competitive Advantage

Unsiloed data is powerful data.

The most important thing to remember is that when you unsilo your data, you are empowering it. You're freeing it up for analysis and the creation of powerful insights. Those insights may lead to your discovering faster and more efficient ways to deliver services, and scaling up or down with minimal impact. Another benefit may be the ability to adjust to emerging business needs as they're happening; to improve the safety of your work environment; and to provide better customer experiences -- all while boosting your bottom line.

April Rassa

Director, Marketing and Growth, Progressly

April Rassa leads product marketing and growth at Progressly, the world's first cloud-based Operational Performance Management solution. Rassa has more than 15 years of management experience across various industries and is a strong advocate for the overall customer experience. 

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